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June 2007
July 2007

2007-06-18 »

When good design goes bad

Avid readers of this journal (should there be any) may recall my earlier rather positive review of the Pontiac Pursuit. Last year I even bought one.

Well, I have bad news: today I needed to rent a car to get from one place to another, and they gave me a new 2007 Pontiac G5 to drive. As of 2007, G5 is the new name for the Pursuit. That's because it now sucks. And thus begins my occasionally backwards story.

[...one year earlier...]

The 2006 Pursuit was known as the "Pontiac G5 Pursuit." That's the one I own; in fact, I got the GT model, which ends up with the lame combined name of "Pontiac G5 Pursuit GT."

It wasn't always like this. Back in 2005, the car was introduced as simply the "Pontiac Pursuit." Mine would have been the "Pontiac Pursuit GT." That would have been a fine name; just the right number of G's to make it sound fast but respectable.

People who know about cars tease me about my Pursuit. They think it's an American car, and therefore sucks by default. They think it's a Pontiac, and therefore has an interior designed by spaceworms from Planet Xorax. The people who think these things have not actually been in my car, which is in fact awesome. The designers must have pored over every detail; everything works the way it should, with a minimum of user interaction, pushbuttons, twirly things, random guessing, or annoyance. The engine actually runs properly; the stereo is tuned for the car's acoustics; cruise control uses only three buttons, two of them optional; the doors close with a satisfying, low-tolerance whoomp instead of a clunk (a factor I first observed with dcoombs while in Germany). And yes, it was cheap. Of course it was cheap! Just as any respectable American car should be.

The Pursuit's origins are mysterious. When I went to look for it back in early 2006, it didn't exist on the General Motors web site; only GM Canada listed it. It was obviously intended to fill a low-end price point missed by their similar-looking G6, but it had an airy-sounding name instead of a randomly-selected combination of alphanumerics. And, unlike the G6, it obviously wasn't designed by morons. In fact, I joked to a few people that the design seemed to have been contracted out to someone from Japan. I don't actually know if the person was from Japan. But knowing what I know about design, I'm almost sure there was in fact a person. Someone cared about this car - a lot. It could never have been designed at GM otherwise.

So anyway, when later in 2006 it was renamed to "Pontiac G5 Pursuit" - an even stupider name than its companion, the G6 - I knew something was up. There was a person behind the Pursuit - and that person wouldn't have let people get away with something so dumb. My theory was that the designer had either been overruled or had moved on. But since the car seemed to still be the same despite the name, I bought it anyway.

Which brings us to 2007; my theory has been all but confirmed. While the "G5 Pursuit" was just a marketing transition and my car is fine, the G5 is just not the same thing as the Pursuit. The G5 is a piece of garbage worthy of the modern Pontiac name. They've replaced the stereo with a newer one that has fewer features and a worse UI; the console has been randomly rearranged to make it uglier and less user friendly; the interior feels cheaper due to some sort of change in materials; the doors clunk instead of whoomp; and I'm sorry, but the bloody side mirror adjustments just don't work at all. (Using them, you can only point the mirrors in various directions where you can't see anything. To fix it, you roll open your window and push the mirror by hand.) I get the distinct impression that pieces will be falling off, both inside and outside, within a couple of years of owning it. Oh, and the brakes were squeaky. The car had only 6800km on it.

Oh yes: to top it all off, because of the higher-than-expected sales and excellent quality record of the 2005-2006 Pursuit line, Pontiac decided to raise their prices for the 2007 model.

I'd like to meet the designer of the original Pursuit. I think I feel like him sometimes.

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